Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

History’s uncharted Backwater

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A friend working with an international NGO in Lahore showed me some pictures of a ‘stone wall with patterns.’ It was located, he said, in Nag Valley of Balochistan about a hundred kilometres northeast of the town of Punjgur. I was intrigued. I had never seen anything like these walls with chev ron patterns created by an arrangement of shards of stone and large, flat pebbles. And so there I was heading out for the boondocks of Balochistan in the company of two friends from Houbara Foundation International Pakistan.


Some ten kilometres to the east of the little village of Kirichi (about seventy kilometres east of Punjgur), the walls lie hard by a dirt road. (The coordinates for this site are: N 27º - 18.373’, E 65º - 03.330’). This is the favoured smugglers’ route between Punjgur and Besima (near Kalat in the east) because of an absence of anti-smuggling road blocks. The stone walls make up eight enclosures measuring no more than ten to twelve metres square and all contain Muslim burials. The graves are aligned on the prescription north-south axis and each enclosure has a clearly marked mehrab in the west. In all, the graves in the various enclosures and those outside would number about two hundred.
My excitement ebbed away. This site was ordinary, to say the least. It is known that the earliest Arab invaders entered Sindh through Makran (and not by sea as many like to believe). And it is also known that Punjgur was the great city they all passed through. Because the graves appear to be contemporaneous, they perhaps commemorate those who perished by some pestilence or by a thus far unrecorded battle with the sons of Balochistan. As we were pottering about the graves, two passing motorcyclists, the only other people we saw in the two hours we spent there, stopped to chat and, pointing to an adjacent hill, told us of the remains of an ancient castle on top.

We climbed the fifty or so metres and did indeed find a stretch of stone wall and the remains of what was evidently a lookout point. Pottery shards were strewn liberally about. But I, the layman, had no way of judging the antiquity or newness of either the foundations or the pottery. Surveying the flat, tree-less plain below us, however, I was struck by the undulating mound to one side of the grave enclosure. This one, I thought, warranted investigation.

The mound, measuring about forty acres, was covered with broken pottery and dressed stones. As I was quartering the mound I accidentally came upon the treasure hunters’ trench. It had been dug perhaps the evening before for the upturned soil was fresh and powdery, and I even imagined that from their secret lookout those men were perhaps watching us with field glasses. The dig had exposed stone walls and foundations of rooms. On top of the fresh soil were the shards of what would have been a large pot or urn. There were just two pieces and both had fine black geometric painting. I knew the treasure hunter(s) would have smashed the vessel in frustration and flung the parts away when it failed to yield the much coveted gold. Consequently, despite all our efforts to recover the rest of the smashed bits, we failed to turn up any more of them.

Back in Lahore I first showed the collection to my friend Tariq Masud of Punjab Archaeology. He said they were ancient, ‘perhaps pre-Kot Dijian.’ But (shame on me) I did not trust his judgement and resorted to my guru, Dr Saifur Rahman Dar. As I took out the pieces from my bag I could sense the excitement. ‘This is an important find,’ he said and echoed what Tariq had earlier told me: pre-Kot Dijian.

This means this pottery was manufactured any time between 3000 to 3500 BCE – that is, it was over five thousand years old! I had also collected several black painted shards. Some of these were parts of ring-based and flat-based platters, others perhaps drinking tumblers or milk jugs. These intrigued Dr Dar. They were, he said, very similar to what is called Northern Black Polished Ware from the Gangetic Valley, dating to mid 1st millennium BCE. This find is significant because this kind of pottery has rarely been found so far in the west. Then there were the coarse terra-cotta shards that Dr Dar said could be either two thousand or two hundred years old.

So what does all this add to? It adds to a very interesting conclusion: that this site was occupied for no less than four thousand years. From pre-history, through the Achaemenians (the black ware), possibly the Sassanians and into the early Muslim era. That is when some Arab army on its way to the wealth of Sindh encountered the fire-worshipping Baloch defenders of this outpost. It would have been a fierce contest. The invaders fighting for the new faith and their God; the Baloch defending the land of their forefathers. Obviously the invaders prevailed for there are graves. Otherwise their bodies would have rotted in the sun and fattened the vultures and jackals.

To begin with, the Black Ware tells me that sometime in the 1st millennium BCE the traders of this thriving city were doing business as far east as the valley of the Ganga River or northern India. Of course this ware would have been just one item they traded in. Other more esoteric secrets of that ancient city, its culture and commerce, perhaps even its name, await discovery beneath the layers of dust left by the passage of time. That lies beyond the pale of ignorant persons such as us, it is in the domain of the master archaeologist.

As for the graves, several questions rankle: which party of Arabs is buried in the mysterious graves? Who were the defenders? When did it all happen? I have no answers. There will be no answers until the Balochistan Department of Archaeology shakes itself out of its sloth and investigates this priceless site.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM,

1 Comments:

At January 28, 2017 at 10:09 AM, Blogger Spade said...

As you will know Baluchistan was wetter and greener than it is now. There has been a gradual decrease in rainfall and the monsoons have also gradually shifted East. This is one of the main reasons for the decline of Indus Valley Civilisation. Pre IVC phase sites are located in Baluchistan . This is where the civilization developed to attain extraordinary heights in the Indus Valley later . We have not explored all such sites in Baluchistan .

 

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My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand


Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days